La Cueva alumnus Jack Hoagland, shown competing at this year’s ACC Championships, was named the league’s freshman of the year while swimming for Notre Dame. Karl L. Moore/Notre Dame Athletics(Notre Dame Athletics)

The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was not necessarily a debit on Jack Hoagland’s swimming ledger. The delay may even prove to be his ticket to Japan.

“And,” the 2019 La Cueva High graduate and Notre Dame freshman said, “even if I don’t make this Olympics, I’ll have three more years to hopefully make the next one.”

By Hoagland’s own admission, he probably wouldn’t emerge as a qualifier off the U.S. national team were the Olympics held on schedule this summer.

……………………………………………………….

But Hoagland, who is coming off a marvelous freshman season with the Fighting Irish, is a rising star in his sport. His rapidly evolving résumé has fattened considerably just since he left New Mexico’s high school ranks a year ago.

The 18-year-old recently was named the freshman of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference and qualified for a maximum three individual events for the NCAA Championships, which were scheduled for late March but wiped out by COVID-19.

Hoagland also was qualified in three events – the 200-meter IM, 400-meter IM and 400-meter free – for this year’s Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Those postponed trials will instead be held June 13-20 of 2021.

And Hoagland believes he could be qualified in as many as six events come next summer’s Trials in Omaha. That includes two freestyle distances (800 meters and 1,500 meters) where he feels he might have his best chance to qualify for Tokyo.

“When I was younger, I always thought about going to the Olympics, that it would be so cool, but I always thought it was out of my reach,” Hoagland said. “Now that I’m getting closer and closer to that dream coming true, I think about it way more often.”

At La Cueva, Hoagland last year broke the state’s 200-yard individual medley record, and he dominated the 500-yard freestyle final for the Bears en route to their first boys championship since 1996.

Jack Hoagland, shown at the ACC championships, is hopeful that he will succeed at the U.S. swim trials in advance of the 2021 Olympics. (Karl L. Moore/Notre Dame Athletics)

In South Bend, Hoagland already is carving his name into the Notre Dame record books. He is the school record-holder in the 400-yard IM and is second-fastest in program history in the 500 free, 1,000 free and 1,650-yard free. He was the fastest freshman in the country in the 1,650 last season, and second-fastest frosh in the 500 free.

“We knew coming in that Jack had great potential. Tapping into that potential daily was a work in progress that was helped tremendously by his training partners. Being challenged daily, and responding to that challenge, is where great gains are made,” Notre Dame coach Mike Litzinger said.

……………………………………………………….

Hoagland wasn’t even planning to be a distance swimmer for the Fighting Irish. It occurred almost by happenstance, he said, as Notre Dame coaches paired Hoagland with the Irish’s resident distance specialist, Zach Yeadon. And Hoagland was holding his own. So his overall program changed.

“Kind of surprising,” Hoagland said. “(Coaches) discovered I could do distance and that I could keep up with him.”

The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Hoagland, whose wingspan is 7 feet, was seeded to score more points at the NCAAs than any freshman in the country, he said, with his being qualified in the 500 free, 1,650 free and 400 IM. And the NCAAs, Hoagland said, are more competitive than the U.S. Olympic Trials, given the large number of foreign-born – and Olympic-caliber – swimmers who attend college in the States.

Hoagland qualified last July for the Olympic Trials in the 200-meter IM. He qualified for the other two events during meets in Ohio while he was at Notre Dame.

“Before this season (at Notre Dame), I thought I’d do well at Trials to make the quarterfinals,” Hoagland said. “After this season, I think there’s a real possibility of making the team.”

Said Litzinger: “There are more great things ahead for Jack.”

Hoagland plans to get back into the pool as soon as possible – his club team is Albuquerque’s Charger Aquatics – and hopes to qualify for the Olympic Trials in other events at late-summer meets this year. He stayed positive as he spoke of the coronavirus and how it impacted his calendar year.

“I definitely think (this year) is going to be an experience to remember forever,” he said. “I won’t take this for granted, especially in the future, because you never know when it’s going to end.

“It’s been the best time of my life.”